Goodbye RSS; It was nice while it lasted.

Okay, that might be overstating it. But stick with me…

I’ve been mulling over the idea of RSS lately. You see, I love RSS. As soon as I learned what it was I went around proclaiming its usefulness and told everyone who would listen, “this tool will change your life!” And then, the other day, via Twitter, I learned Bloglines is shutting down. All of a sudden I felt very old fashioned. You see, I quit using Bloglines years ago. But when I started teaching RSS classes, Bloglines was about the only group in business. And now, it’s so outdated and unused that the company is focusing energy and resources elsewhere.

I started thinking about my own use of RSS. I haven’t been checking in with Google Reader with anywhere near the same regularity that I had a year ago. Some of that I chalked up to having a baby, but the trend was starting well before Leif entered the scene. I realized I was checking in about once a week and mostly marking all as read. Any new news I was getting was coming from Twitter or Facebook, when I didn’t feel too guilty to check in there.

In fact, I noticed that my use of Google Reader was transitioning the way my use of listservs transitioned about six years ago. And my use of Twitter and Facebook is starting to look like how my early uses of Bloglines looked.  Next I noticed that several blogs figured this out some time ago:

Academic_HackAcademic Hack ranks it right up there with Subscribe via RSS!

mashableMashable includes both Facebook and Twitter as well as the traditional RSS and even an option to have the content sent to your email.

nextbigfutureNext Big Future suggests Twitter might actually be your favorite News Reader. And they’re futurists, so they know where things are going! :)

read_write_webAnd Read Write Web lists Twitter as a subscription option, too.

All of this lead to a new way (for me) of thinking about how I get information and how I should be consuming it. Which leads to The Plan outlined below. This isn’t going to work for everyone, but I’m going to give it a try for a month or so and see if it sticks.

Google Reader

I’m going to continue using Google Reader for the things I really have to read: friend’s blogs (where if I miss something they’ll be surprised I don’t know), professional publications that don’t have a Twitter feed for Facebook page, and a few other types of things that I don’t need clogging up Twitter such as call for proposal sites that generate 30 or so entries a day.

Twitter and Facebook

Everything else. Anything that I used to subscribe to in blog format will be shifted here. My preference is Twitter, but Facebook will do in a pinch. I say that because a few of my blogs had 15 Twitter feeds because each author listed theirs, but only one Facebook page. What I’m looking for is a way to get the headlines I used to get in my reader, so I’m trying to replicate that in these newer formats.

The Set Up

I went through all of my old reader subscriptions and ruthlessly unsubscribed. If I had any indication I might be interested in continuing on with the content, I added it to Twitter/Facebook if possible.  I went from 167 blogs to 74.  Just to clarify this change over time, before my maternity leave I subscribed to closer to 450 blogs. I’ve been whittling away for some time.

I subscribed freely to things in Twitter. In the past I’ve added with caution and returned a follow only if it was clear from the bio that we had something in common. Now I’m not going to focus too much on maintaining a lean list. I went from following 735  to 789 folks/organizations. And I suspect I’ll add many more over the next day or two.

Over the next week I’ll be running TweetDeck, keeping the “all friends” tab on the left, and moving accounts to the appropriate list as they pop up. I suspect my lists will mirror my old Google Reader folders (library, edtech, tea, buddhism, funny, local, friends, etc).

The Process

The plan is to use the sites in the following way:

  1. Once a week check into my Reader. I already treat listservs this way, so I’ll just translate that experience to the reader. In email I subscribe to several lists, have filters set up, and on Friday afternoon skim the subjects to see if any are still worth reading. In the old days, by Friday most were old news thanks to my Reader. Now I’ll set aside some time, maybe Wednesday, to read the titles of posts in my Reader in just the same way. I assume the important stuff will be old news thanks to Twitter or Facebook.
  2. I’ll keep TweetDeck open throughout the day. I’ll pay attention to it when on hold on the phone, when I have a few minutes before a meeting, etc. The plan is to treat TweetDeck as a stream that I can just dip into and scan without guilt if I miss things.
  3. I’ll set up a group in Facebook for accounts that are pushing out content (mostly pages) that I can look at once a week, maybe when I look at the Reader.

And hopefully this will mean I get more access to relevant information while never again having to check into Google Reader and see that I have 1000+ new things to read.


All of this is a pretty major shift in thinking about how to get information for me. One of the shifts (again, for me) from print culture to electronic was an acceptance that I wouldn’t read everything the way I did before. You miss things online. You read other things instead. Instead of reading through an entire reference book as I might have in previous points in my life, I read several different interpretations of the same entry. Organizing by tags rather than hierarchy means that you might miss entire sections that you’d have to flip past before. This is that, again. Using Twitter to get content means you’ll miss things you’d have to click on “mark as read” in a reader. But I’m guessing it also means you’ll run across more.

It also brings up the idea of a more full personality. With Twitter you get the updates about content as well as what the person is thinking or information about other hobbies and interests. Categorization isn’t clear cut. For example, if I follow Kevin Rose, do I put him in my “tea” category or my “technology” one? And what if I don’t want to read about rock climbing? Overall, though, I think this more full perspective will be an interesting one. The feeds become more about people than organizations, which adds a humanizing layer to the web.

All of this, too, at a point in time when search is changing as well. As always, it’s an exciting time to be in the information field!

Putting this into practice…

Putting my money where my mouth is: if you’re interested, I’ve set up a Twitter feed and Facebook page for this blog! :)

My name is Lauren Pressley. This is where I think out loud, document what I'm doing, and share the things that I like. I'm the Director for Learning Environments at Virginia Tech University Libraries and author of a few books. This blog focuses on libraries, education, information, & the internet. When not at work or blogging, I spend most of my time with John and our son, Leif.

16 thoughts on “Goodbye RSS; It was nice while it lasted.

  1. I have a Bloglines full of feeds that I am going to go and clean out. Truth is, I never read them. I get everything I want to know from Twitter.

    Bonus with Twitter is that if it is really important or big news then everyone is talking about it, so if I miss it from one person, I will certainly see it from another. And, if I really want to know what person A might have said, then I can go to their Twitter and take a look.

    If Twitter will eventually replace the use of RSS Readers, I hope they will add some kind of feature to allow users to always know when certain Twitterers are tweeting. I think they do have something that will send you a text, but I haven’t been able to get it to work.

    For now, I just use the list function to create people/groups that I really want to read. Then, I can just go and check what they said by pulling up the list.

    The thing that I love about Twitter is that the way it is used is user driven. The users adapt it to what works best for them. I have been tweeting for a couple years now, and I have never posted what I had for lunch.

  2. Love this. It’s not often people take the time to explain exactly what they’re doing with all this STUFF.

    Curious … is Delicious off the radar all together as well???

  3. I look forward to talking to you after awhile of this. I still use them very distinctly, although I clearly get lots and lots of info via Twitter. I still see Twitter as a conversation, while I’m ok with just consumption in gReader. Plus I <3 <3 <3 my River of News app on my iPad. :-)

  4. I copied you some notes on Twitter, but figure it’s worth pointing out here what I’ve written elsewhere:

    “Whenever I find a feed that I would like to follow, but feel like it doesn’t quite make the cut, I add it to a folder titled ‘zxtra’. I hardly ever look in that folder, mostly choosing to ‘mark all read’, but when I want to search for something interesting on a given topic, I skip Google and go straight to Google Reader which then serves as my personalized search engine of interestingness. Who needs Yahoo Pipes?”

    When I first wrote that, I wasn’t making the case for keeping Google Reader around even with Twitter as a primary feed reader, but I think it still makes sense. So, the approach that I’m slowly migrating to is following many of the same feeds in both Twitter and that ‘zxtra’ folder in Google Reader. I scan on Twitter, but don’t lose my curated search engine or the ability to search my feeds when I can’t remember where I found something.

  5. Jennifer, exactly! It’s too bad you haven’t gotten the text messaging to work in Twitter. I agree, a desktop version of that would be really helpful.

    IrmBrown, thanks! Good point about Delicious. I’m still a big user of it… I’ll try to write up a post on that (and Instapaper) tomorrow!

    Jason, I’m always up for a good chat! I would think you’d be the sort of power RSS user that would continue to make good use of RSS. I’d love to see the River of News app!

    Robertogreco, thanks for sharing. I did a modified version of that as well for a while. I also had a folder that was “always read.” I’ll try to include a write up of my system for that in the post I’ll write up tomorrow. It’s an interesting approach to use your Reader as a personalized search engine, but it sounds like a useful approach.

    Roy, thanks! I ran right over and read your post! I love how you capture the main point I was circling around but not making at all: “We would do well, as information professionals who need to keep our fingers on the pulse, to regularly check in with ourselves to make sure we’re using the right tools in the right ways for our professional need to remain aware and engaged.”

  6. I actually tried to use twitter as my feedreader, but I found that it got in the way of the conversations I like to have. I’m back to using FeedDemon for feeds (because I like a desktop client for heavy feed reading) and twitter for people. I don’t think RSS is going anywhere soon. Activity streams/Pubsub mechanisms might be an upset, by adoption there remains slow.

  7. Your blog post has made me completely reconsider Twitter on this fine Sunday morning. I admit I set up an account, but never used it. I can’t really remember why I am resisting trying it out. And I haven’t checked my Google Reader for months.

    I’m currently enrolled in my first class for a master’s degree in instructional design, and we were assigned to add relevant ID blogs to our feed reader of choice. This was when I discovered that is shutting down Bloglines. At first I thought it was due to not wanting to compete with Google.

    But now that I think about it, I really struggled to find a blog reader on my iPod Touch. I thought that was strange at the time. The blog reader I did find did a terrible job updating, downloading and retaining posts. I was disappointed. But my new Droid X phone had Twitter pre-installed; indicating customer demand drove the developers to integrate Twitter into the main functionality of the device. This also indicates that blog feed readers are going away and many Twitter-resisters like myself will migrate to Twitter, due to how many of us rely on our Smartphones to update us as we’re waiting in line or on the go.

    Thanks for the post. I’m going to try your plan! I’ll be interested to hear how it is working out for you.

  8. I actually streamlined my RSS feeds into twitter by creating a dummy twitter acount, following it, and using twitterfeed to tweet RSS feeds from the dummy account.

  9. Nice post, Lauren. Perhaps it’s really the RSS reader that’s going away for you, more than RSS itself (I’m wondering how much of your Facebook intake is being fed by RSS)?

    As others have noted, it’s really dependent on your own preferences, so it’s nice to see how others handle these decisions. I went through this process myself last year and ended up going back to Google Reader for a lot of my non-library feeds because they were getting drowned out by all of the library folks I follow on Twitter.

    Like Greg, there are times I really like the calmness of gReader, and it lets me zero in on content in a way I can’t on Twitter. Yes, unread content piles up in my Reader, but far more flies by on Twitter that I never even see. And while it’s true that it’s tough to miss a big story or link on Twitter, I found I was missing the not-so-big ones and I wanted them back.

    I also discovered that by removing feeds from gReader, I was then unable to go back and scroll through a particular feed for something I saw flash by on Twitter a couple of weeks ago (was it this site or the other one? I couldn’t remember), and I lost the ability to search all of the streams I wanted to track. That alone made me resubscribe to all of the feeds I wanted to track, even if I don’t read them regularly.

    I’ll be interested to hear your assessment in six months or so to see if this is still working for you. I found the unrelenting firehose of Twitter on its own to be too overwhelming. I know you’ll do better with it, though, and I look forward to reading about how in case I can adopt any of those practices myself. :)


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